I still wouldn’t be able to spot the three core members of Animal Collective if they were walking down High St. and I suppose it’s that anonymity, that shroud of mystery, which keeps me intrigued with their career trajectory, even as it rises to puzzling new heights.
Last year’s Feels was an awkward step backwards into the abject jamming of ol’, almost completely disregarding the near pop-acoustic masterpiece that was Sung Tongs, so it was pleasantly surprising that Monday’s show at the Wexner Center was filled to capacity with an odd contingent of barely legal followers, a new generation of hippies, giving the place a vibe that we were privy to an intimate performance with Phish. There was dope smoked (a first at Wex methinks), gutter punks begging to pay $30 and upwards for a ticket, out-of-place scalper harassment, and a long line of devotees waiting for autographs pre-show.
Last time Animal Collective brought their caravan through town, they tended to play at the mercy of their environment; letting the stage (cluttered with acoustic instruments, various pedals and percussions) guide them through the mostly improvised set, as if beings commanded by nature. These days, things are much tighter, not so much choreographed, but the trio has learned to farm their own sonic garden, knowing where every seed is planted, every vine will grow, every raindrop will fall, and which rows will eventually bear fruit.
After launching into a scattered, dancehall, rendition of “Who Could Win a Rabbit,” they preceded to string together an hour’s worth of new material, following their live trend of giving the crowd the future, today. To the uninitiated, their set could be interpreted as one long disc glitch, rarely finding a comfortable settle, but those who were meticulously listening to each new song unravel are sure to sing their praises, as the bulk of their forthcoming album (who really knows for sure) is the Animal Collective’s melodic strengths truly taking shape. As I said before, things were quite tidy, the trio’s formation more geometric perfection, than amorphous glob of noise.
Every sample, be it a live guitar strummed or distant jungle coos, were packed neatly into either the Geologist’s or Panda Bear’s box of tricks, pulled out when the monotony became too much to bear, with Avey Tare pacing the middle, somewhat orchestrating the madness. There’s still a sense that the group is creating as they drift along, even if there were definite structures in place. There were Pet Sound harmonies taken to logical extremes (similar to Panda’s Person Pitch), oscillating electronic squiggles, Disney soundtracks run through extra-terrestrial mainframes, Afro-pop rhythms layered over primal screams, transcendent ragas turned inside-out, and all of these elements casually tossed off into a bottomless well or a vast canyon cast in stained-glass, gleefully anticipating whatever echo came back. As an aural fever dream, it’s quite easy to predict these songs will amaze once put to tape, but the morning after, it’s something harder to explain; beautifully grotesque is a start.